Senate releases some provisions in $2 trillion emergency package
Senate leaders released some of the toplines in a massive $2 trillion emergency package to help counter the effects of the coronavirus on American life, offering $1,200 checks to adult individuals and a financial lifeline to businesses and industries reeling from the rapidly expanding virus.
The full text of the bill has yet to be released but the Senate is planning to vote on soon. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee released the details of what is included in one area of the massive bill and how $330 billion would be used.
Here are some of the top provisions laid out:
- $150 billion for hospitals and medical centers to handle surging caseloads
- More than $25 billion for food stamps and other food assistance programs and $9.5 billion to the Department of Agriculture to support agricultural producers
- $10.5 billion for the Department of Defense, including $1.4 billion for deployments of the National Guard and$ 1 billion for the Defense Production Act to help the fast-track production of needed medical supplies to combat the coronavirus.
- $5 billion is provided for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to enable nearly 1,240 states, counties, and cities to rapidly respond to COVID-19 and the economic and housing impacts caused by it.
- $45 billion for FEMA Disaster Relief Fund and another $4.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control
- $11 billion for vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other medical needs which will be spread among several agencies to help discover a cure and treatment options for the virus
- $400 million to help states as they prepare for elections amid the virus
- $45 billion in disaster fund relief for “the immediate needs” of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Another $31 billion to help states keep schools and colleges open and operating on-line.
- $3 billion to help more than 4.5 million low-income households in HUD-assisted housing to avoid eviction.
- Authorizes $350 billion worth of loans to small businesses, some of which will be forgiven later
- $562 million for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loans Program to offer loans to businesses hit and $1.5 billion to the Economic Development Administration to support grants for states and local communities
- $10 billion to be disbursed to airports by the Federal Aviation Administration, $25 billion for local bus and rail systems and another $1 billion to help Amtrak offset its losses
– Ledge King, Christal Hayes and Nicholas Wu
U.S. doctors push State Dept. to expedite visas for foreign physicians seeking U.S. residency posts
The nation’s most powerful doctors’ association is pressing the State Department to open visa processing for foreign physicians seeking to join U.S. residency programs.
The American Medical Association is also calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to publicly confirm that foreign nationals already working in the U.S. as residents will be able to get their visas renewed, so they can be redeployed as the coronavirus outbreak continues its march across the United States.
On March 20, the State Department announced it would suspend routine visa services at all its embassies and consulates around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The AMA said if those services don’t restart soon, it could exacerbate the stress on the U.S. health care system.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. was already facing a serious shortage of physicians largely due to the growth and aging of the population and the impending retirement of many physicians,” the AMA’s CEO, Dr. James L. Madara, wrote in a letter to Pompeo on Wednesday.
Madara noted that foreign residents serve a critical role in providing health care to Americans – particularly those in rural and other underserved areas that have a high prevalence of chronic disease, such as diabetes. Those conditions could contribute to complications from COVID-19.
There are currently 4,300 medical graduates who have been matched to U.S. residency programs but need immigration services in order to enter and stay in the United States, the AMA says. In addition, there are many foreign residents already here who have recently completed their residencies, and they now need visa services to transfer to underserved areas.
“During this pandemic it is even more critical that our non-U.S. citizen (international medical graduates) have the support they need from the Administration to provide health care to those patients battling COVID-19,” Madara wrote.
The State Department’s press office did not immediately respond to questions about the AMA letter.
In announcing its suspension of routine visa services, the State Department said it is focused on providing emergency and “mission-critical” visa services and has canceled “all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.”
The State Department has said it cannot provide a specific date for resumption of regular services.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Senate reaches deal on $2 trillion stimulus bill aimed at coronavirus
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has been touting a key metric in recent days to highlight the speed with which the nation is ramping up its testing for coronavirus. The U.S., Trump has said, is now moving faster on testing than South Korea.
But in making the claim, Trump overlooks a huge piece of context: The United States population is more than six times the size of South Korea’s. On a per capita basis, South Korea is testing far more of its citizens than the U.S.
“We kept hearing about South Korea,” Trump said during his daily White House briefing on Tuesday. “In eight days, we’re doing more testing than they’ve done in eight weeks. That’s a tremendous turn.”
Trump is under enormous pressure to expand the availability of tests, and leaders both in Washington and around the world have held up South Korea as a benchmark country for comparison because of their rapid deployment.
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There is no “official” U.S. government count of testing. Trump administration officials have said that’s partly because they didn’t want to slow down availability of the test by imposing uniform reporting requirements. But the COVID Tracking Project website is collecting data from state and local governments and appears to be one of the more reliable sources in the nation on testing data.
The site has counted 367,710 coronavirus tests administered in the U.S. as of Wednesday. South Korea, by comparison, has conducted 357,896 tests, according to public health officials there. Assuming those numbers are accurate, the U.S. has exceeded South Korea in terms of raw tests.
But the huge difference in population adds an important piece of context to those figures. The U.S. population is roughly 332.6 million. South Korea’s is 51.8 million. That means South Korea has tested roughly one in every 144 of its citizens. In the U.S. the per capita testing rate is closer to one in every 900.
– John Fritze and Jennifer Portman
New York’s Gov. Cuomo says stimulus bill falls far short
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that an approximately $2 trillion assistance package the Senate hopes to quickly approve doesn’t come close to meeting his hard-hit state’s needs.
“It would really be terrible for the state of New York,” Cuomo said at a news conference held as lawmakers were trying to put into legislative language the deal announced in the early morning hours by Senate leaders. “This doesn’t do it.”
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Cuomo said New York would get $3.8 billion when they’re looking at a revenue shortfall of as much as $15 billion and the cost of combating the coronavirus will be several billion dollars.
He pointed to the more generous $17 billion he said the state would have gotten under the assistance package proposed by the House.
“We need the House to make adjustments,” Cuomo said.
– Maureen Groppe
Pompeo blasts China for ‘crazy talk’
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly used the term “Wuhan virus” to refer to the coronavirus that is spreading across the globe, despite warnings from health experts that the term risks stigmatizing Asian-Americans and concerns the label has incited racist attacks in the U.S.
In a 15-minute news conference, Pompeo never used the official medical term – COVID-19 – for the disease.
Pompeo also lashed out at China again for its handling of the initial outbreak, which began in the city of Wuhan.
“They were the first country to know about the risk to the world from this virus, and they repeatedly delayed sharing that” information with the U.S. and other nations, Pompeo told a handful of reporters gathered at the State Department for Wednesday’s briefing.
Pompeo blasted the Chinese Communist Party for its “disinformation campaign,” noting that a high-level party official has wrongly suggested the U.S. military may have introduced the virus inside China.
“This is crazy talk,” Pompeo said.
Asked about possible U.S. cooperation with China now that the country seems to have recovered from the peak of its outbreak, Pompeo said the Trump administration is willing to work with any country on the global response to the pandemic.
Pompeo’s remarks came after he and other European leaders spoke via videoconference Wednesday morning – a G7 meeting that was originally scheduled to take place in-person in Philadelphia. The G7 foreign ministers held the virtual meeting instead.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Pentagon: military coronavirus cases jump by 29%
Coronavirus cases among troops, their families and civilian employees climbed Wednesday to 415, the Pentagon reported, a 29% increase from Tuesday’s 321 case total.
The coronavirus continues to spread throughout the ranks. Three sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, sailing in the eastern Pacific, were airlifted from the ship after they tested positive for the illness, the Navy said Tuesday. The Roosevelt has more than 5,000 sailors aboard.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon’s top acquisition chief, Ellen Lord, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that although the alarm sounded on COVID-19 several weeks ago, comprehensive planning in the Defense Department began Friday to ship stockpiles of ventilators and mask and to buy more of them.
Meanwhile, the Army ordered the deployment of three combat support hospitals to New York and Washington. The Army’s largest field hospitals have about 250 beds, including some for intensive care. The mobile hospitals are based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Hood, Texas. Designed to serve as trauma hospitals, they have the capability to function as full-service hospitals for all patient types.
– Tom Vanden Brook
How big is the stimulus package?
At roughly $2 trillion, the measure would be, by far, the largest economic package ever approved by Washington.
It’s more than half the size of the $3.5 trillion the federal government expects to collect in taxes this year.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on a conference call with reporters, called it the “biggest economic government intervention in the history of the world”
– Ledge King
Schumer: ‘odds are high’ another stimulus will be needed
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said another bill to counter the effects of the coronavirus is likely, opening the door to another legislative package just hours after senators reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus plan early Wednesday.
“I think the odds are high we’re going to have to do something again,” Schumer said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We have to see in the next few weeks what other problems haven’t been solved.”
“This bill is a good bill,” he said, noting “it doesn’t have everything I like in it. And there are a few things in it I don’t like. But overall, we need it.”
– Nicholas Wu
Senate to vote on stimulus package Wednesday
The Senate is scheduled to reconvene at noon Wednesday to begin the process of passing the historic $2 trillion economic rescue package crafted to combat the impacts of coronavirus.
The Senate first will hold a vote to end debate and clear the way for final Senate passage, likely later Wednesday. After its expected passage, the bill will head to the House for a vote there before heading to President Donald Trump for his signature.
The final language is still being crafted but the package includes one-time payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, $367 billion for small businesses, $500 billion for loans to larger industries, $100 billion for hospitals and the health care system, $600 more per week in unemployment benefits for those out of work.
It’s the third measure and – by far – the largest economic stimulus package expected to emerge from Congress this month to confront a pandemic that has killed more than 800 Americans, infected tens of thousands more, and shuttered large swaths of the U.S. economy.
– Ledyard King
Senators reach $2 trillion stimulus to fight coronavirus impacts
After days of rancorous negotiations, Republican and Democratic senators have reached a deal on a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package to ease the damaging economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
About 1:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the agreement in a speech on the Senate floor along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“At last, we have a deal,” McConnell said. “After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic.”
The final language is still being crafted but the package includes:
- one-time payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child
- $367 billion for small businesses
- $500 billion for loans to larger industries
- $100 billion for hospitals and health system
- $50 billion for protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, workforce training, new construction to house patients, and coronavirus medical research.
- A $600 increase in the maximum weekly unemployment benefit for four months
- $150 billion for a state, local and tribal fund
- The creation of a Treasury Department office to oversee the distribution of loans
- A tax credit for employers who keep workers on their payroll
- A provision that no loans can go to businesses controlled by President Donald Trump, members of his administration, members of Congress or their families
McConnell said it was a “war-time level of investment” that would “rush new resources onto the front lines of our nation’s health care fight” and “inject trillions of dollars of cash into the economy as fast as possible.”
“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” he vowed.
“After sleep-deprived nights and marathon negotiating sessions, we have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history,” Schumer said. “This is not a moment of celebration but one of necessity. The anguish of the American people – wondering about the future of their health, the health of their loved ones and the economy – necessitates us to do all we can to help them and help our country.”
Schumer said while “like all compromises, this bill is far from perfect” it was a significant improvement over the previous version and urged his fellow Democrats to vote for it.
For days, both sides had agreed on the basics of the package: direct payments to Americans, help for small business, a lifeline to large industries, such as airlines, considered vital to the nation’s swift recovery from a shutdown that had paralyzed the world’s largest economy and upended the country’s daily routines.
But a quick compromise proved elusive.
Democrats pressed for more worker protections, money for states fighting the virus and guarantees that corporations couldn’t use bailout money for stock buybacks and executive bonuses. Republicans, in turn, accused Democrats of obstruction for delaying a desperately-needed lifeline for the American economy in order to push what McConnell derided as a “left-wing episode of ‘Supermarket Sweep.'”
Floor votes simply to advance the bill to the Senate floor for a final vote died on two separate occasions. Tempers flared. Patience was short. Both sides accused the other of negotiating in bad faith while the crisis worsened, the number of infection cases climbed, and the stock market continued to tumble.
In addition, the already difficult negotiations were complicated as a handful of senators – all Republicans – couldn’t vote because they had to self-quarantine over exposure to the very virus they were trying to combat.
If the bill passes the full Senate, it will go to the House.
– Ledyard King, Nicholas Wu and William Cummings
94% of Republicans, 27% of Democrats approve of Trump’s coronavirus response, poll finds
President Donald Trump’s opponents have criticized him for not ramping up the federal response to the COVID-19 outbreak sooner, and for downplaying the threat posed by the new coronavirus into early March. But those criticisms do not appear to be shared by a majority of the American people as 60% of whom approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, according to a new Gallup poll.
Approval of his response was highest among Republicans at 94%. Sixty percent of independents and 27% of Democrats also gave him good marks on his handling of the crisis. Overall, 38% said they disapproved of his response to the outbreak.
Trump’s job approval rating also climbed to 49% from 44% in the previous Gallup poll, which was conducted earlier in March. That tied his previous high with Gallup, which he reached amid his impeachment battle and eventual acquittal. His lowest job approval mark with Gallup was 35%, which he reached in four 2017 polls.
Notably, Trump’s approval jumped 8 percentage points among independents and 6 points among Democrats from the previous poll, which Gallup noted was unusual for the politically polarizing president. The polling outfit attributed that climb to a “rally effect” often seen when the nation is in crisis.
“Historically, presidential job approval has increased when the nation is under threat,” Gallup said. “Every president from Franklin Roosevelt through George W. Bush saw their approval rating surge at least 10 points after a significant national event of this kind. Bush’s 35-point increase after 9/11 is the most notable rally effect on record.”
The poll was conducted from March 13-22 from a random sample of 1,020 adults. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
– William Cummings
Trump attacks Romney after Utah senator tests negative for coronavirus
President Donald Trump greeted reports that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tested negative for coronavirus by saying “great news!” – though he then proceeded to trash his political rival in a tweet.
“I am so happy I can barely speak,” Trump tweeted. “He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO, and I like him a lot!”
RINO is slang for “Republican In Name Only.”
Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, was the only Republican lawmaker to vote in favor of an impeachment charge against Trump. Romney has also been frequently critical of the president.
After Romney announced he would go into seclusion amid coronavoirus fears, Trump told reporters Sunday: “Romney is in isolation? Gee, that’s too bad.”
– David Jackson
Package blocks Trump, other officials’ businesses from receiving stimulus money
The Senate Democratic leader says the proposed $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill would prohibit money from going to businesses controlled by President Donald Trump.
Business interests controlled by Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress, and heads of executive departments are also prohibited “from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs,” said a statement from the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Democrats had demanded such a provision in the bill, saying Trump and his family would seek to benefit from what some called a “slush fund” to be controlled by the Treasury Department. The Trump hotel and resort empire, like others, has been hit hard by the outbreak of coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns across the world.
Senators who negotiated the final proposal told reporters that a $500 billion loan and loan guarantee program would be scrutinized by an independent inspector general and an oversight board.
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Trump was asked Sunday whether his business interests could benefit from the legislation. “I have no idea what they’re talking about,” he said. “Let’s just see what happens.”
Trump also noted that his children now control his businesses. Schumer’s office said the prohibition on aid also includes “the children, spouses and in-laws.”
– David Jackson
Contributing: The Associated Press